The Radium Girls

In collaboration with xtine burrough.

What: The Radium Girls is an emerging story-telling piece which juxtaposes stories about technology used to produce exit signs with the story of the Radium Girls. Iterations included an exit sign tour, a self-guided exit sign tour in which the “stops” were audio files contained inside bird cages, and the current interactive sculpture .

When: Fall 2016 -present.

Display history:
November 2016 – Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX.
March 2017 – School of Arts, Technology and Emerging Communication, University of  Texas at Dallas.
May 2017 – Central Trak, Dallas, TX.
November 2017 – HASTAC conference, Orlando, FL.
February 2017 – 16th Biennial Symposium of Arts and Technology at The Ammerman Center for the Arts and Technology at Connecticut College, New London, CT.
May 2017 – Plano ArtFest, Plano, TX
July 2018 – Museo Del Traje, xCoAx, Madrid, Spain.
April 2019 – Patterns exhibition, part of the conference “What is Technology” at the University of Oregon, in Portland, OR.

The Radium Girls project in its multiple iterations juxtaposes stories about technology used to produce exit signs with the story of the Radium Girls. The Radium Girls were female factory workers of the 1920s who were exposed to radium—using it to paint watch dials — and fell deadly ill. The workers fought (and lost) a long judicial battle over reparations, which did, however, help to establish new worker rights laws and radioactive materials safety laws. We instigate participants to connect the past to the present, and to consider how relationships and legacies of class, production and socio-technological standards impact the human condition.

We invite the public to explore an omnipresent and often overlooked piece of public architecture: the exit sign. This project connects scientific information about the construction and standards of exit signs in the United States (which once glowed with radium) with the often unknown struggle of the Radium Girls. For this iteration, we recorded five women from diverse backgrounds narrating pieces that we wrote by juxtaposing information about exit signs with quotes from Kate Moore’s book The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women. Each narration is played when a participant touches a brush to one of five watch dials hanging from the exit sign in our participatory audio sculpture. Installed on the sign is a Bare Conductive touch board that stores and plays the audio files when the brush makes a connection with a watch dial, closing the circuit between the watches and the exit sign.

All pictures by me otherwise noted.